Tiger Woods is roaring back into Masters competition with an incredible first round since his horror crash just 14 months ago
No wonder. We’ll have to wait until Sunday night to explain that and it’s still unlikely.
But the fuchsia shirt Tiger Woods drill round Augusta National shone as bright as the spirit and determination of the man who wore it.
With every stiff, cautious step, every grimace of pain, Woods proved his insatiable desire hadn’t abated during the past 14 months of mental and physical torment.
This was not the tiger of yore with his pomp, tearing Augusta apart and shaking his rivals.
Because of it. He knows better than anyone how the old lady can bite if you let her.
Woods finished four times behind overnight leader Sungjae Im, with the South Korean shooting five under par 67s.
Australia’s Cameron Smith finished second overnight with a setback, while England’s Danny Willett was under par in group three.
The 2016 champion was joined at -3 by 2020 winner Dustin Johnson, world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler and Woods’ playing partner Joaquin Niemann.
Jason Kokrak, Corey Conners and Patrick Cantlay all had two-under-par rounds of 70.
Rory McIlroy, meanwhile, had to settle for +1 in the opening round as a host of big names failed to break par.
Collin Morikawa joined him at +1 while Jordan Spieth and Xander Schauffele finished at +2 and Brooks Koepka was +3.
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He stars alongside Louis Oosthuizen and Chilean Joaquin NiemannWoods demonstrated his enduring ability to get the most out of his efforts.
Yes, there were some misguided rides, notably a shocker at 14 that could have derailed the entire loop after a missed eagle chance at 13, another ropey one at the end.
His chipping was worse than mediocre at times, a puzzled effort to see him Deploy the F-Bomb in a scream of angry frustration.
And his iron game left a lot to be desired, too rarely found the surface from the fairway.
But time and time again, when Woods needed to pot the putt for par, he did, bringing more and more gasps of delight from the huge galleries that accompanied him every step of the 7,510 yards.
And when he converted an unlikely 29-foot slider from right to left for a birdie on 16, everyone’s explosion of joy earned the triumphal fist bump that hit him.
Assuming it was his first round of competition in 17 months and that at this time last year the doctors were still not sure if he would ever walk again, shooting a one-under-par 71 was truly amazing.
Even more so given that two days of torrential rain had made Augusta an even greater test.
But nobody loves a comeback story more than the American sports fan.
And few comeback stories can match Woods’ recovery from the car accident injuries that left lasting scars on his mind and body.
This journey, from hotel bed to Masters, has been studied by every fan of the game.
Perhaps that explained the remarkable stillness that settled around the first tee as Woods prepared to leave.
It was a real tension, made worse by the roar and cheer that had accompanied his arrival two minutes earlier.
Nobody knew what to expect – whether this would be another chapter in an incredible story or the last book of his career.
A shoved drive only added to the intrigue, with Woods’ limp seeming to wax and wane in direct association with the preceding shot.
If he was in the right place, he walked almost normally.
When he got out of line or fell short, the pain seemed to increase.
But psychic or not, the only thing that mattered was where the ball landed.
It was the essence of a genius at work finding a way to ensure it was equal or better on all but two of the 18 holes.
When Woods met his Tee off the short sixth to just two feet for a nice birdie, the fans standing 12 deep behind the green could not contain their joy.
Incredibly, after one deadbeat from the front to the next, he was one shot away from the lead.
The eighth saw the first signs of tension, a horrible chip producing a four-letter burst, another sped past and a miss from nine feet producing a bogey.
But critically, after another uncontrolled chip, he potted a 10-foot bottom down the hill for par at nine – after watching Niemann pot his second hole from 105 yards – and kept his nerve on tremors on 10 and 11 .
A 54th career birdie on 14 after a great second from the corner of the dogleg put him back in the red before hitting another blemish the next.
Woods’ foot slipped as he swerved wildly left into the trees, a real pain shooting through him even as he tried to keep his “game face” up.
His recovery from the pine thatch was great, dribbling just past the back of the green, but his attempt to pot one back resulted in a second dropped shot, groans and a whoosh of his putter.
The 16 putt, the scene of what was arguably his greatest Masters moment of 2005, brought back all those old memories – unlikely but somehow inevitable, his last hole scramble for par, the sinking from 10 feet, the conclusion of the round.
Woods may not win the tournament. But he has already won the biggest fight.
https://www.thesun.co.uk/sport/18202114/tiger-woods-masters-contention-first-round-comeback-crash/ Tiger Woods is roaring back into Masters competition with an incredible first round since his horror crash just 14 months ago